After a not fabulous night of sleep—unable to really say why, horrible, nagging dreams that even in your dream state you know don’t make sense and don’t warrant the anxiety were partly to blame—I was up and out as planned and sitting with a takeaway coffee and baked goods waiting for the Buttington bus well before time.
I packed for the dark skies and the rainy potential, but it never came to fruition. I love a cure through prevention and superstition. It was actually quite a fun day. I crossed fields and encountered a herd of friendly bullocks—it’s mostly been sheep this trip. They did the scared, followed by curious thing and ended up following me though the field. Now, I am not so paranoid about this behaviour and we had a good chat and a photo opportunity at the stile at the end of their field.
More animal incidents occurred when I played ‘sheep search and rescue’ on the Montgomery Canal. The day included a couple of miles walking along the rebuilt and quite lovely Canal that had been used for years in the past to transport lime. As I walked along I saw a sheep was in the water, on the opposite bank. I thought that it was dead and just floating. Its head was lying on the bank. I clapped and made noise to see if it was alive and it wearily raised its head and looked at me. Unlike any other sheep I had encountered, my presence was not enough to scare the willies out of it and get it scooting up the bank. I supposed that it had fallen in and was now near exhaustion with trying to get back out. There were marks up along the bank that seemed to point to it having tried and tried to get out of the water. It appeared like it had now given up. I could think of no worse way to die—to stay standing in that water until pure exhaustion caused you to slip away and drown. I imagined it’s mother (it seemed like it was the size of lambs, large lambs, that were still, all over the place, feeding from their mothers) crying for it on the side of the canal until she realised that it was lost and just, in the cruel reality of life as an animal, turning and walking away. Maybe it would get out, maybe the farmer would turn up and drag it out—I couldn’t take the chance. So I walked to the bridge a few hundred meters up, hid my pack in the thistles and proceeded back along the opposite bank until I found it. There was no way that I would be able to pull it from the canal—the side was too steep, I wouldn’t get a handle on it—so I had to overcome my extreme dislike of inland waterways, strip off to my bike shorts, singlet and bare feet and jump in the canal. Eeough!! The sheep was a little panicked and definitely had enough energy to resist. I had to play tug-o’-war with it to get it a little further down the canal where the bank was less steep. Lucky sheep wool is so thick: it was a great way to hold on, but probably hurt like hell to be dragged down a river by your wool—thus warranting stepping on my bare feet with your cloven hoof! I had to get my arms in under the sheep and hike it onto the bank. Then get in under again, along with a knee in the jacksie, and push the rest of it out. It finally managed to find the strength to walk away, shook its tail and wondered off without a single word of thanks. I dressed again and walked back to my bag covered in mud that would slowly get fouler and fouler smelling as the day proceeded.
I felt elated as I walked along. The path followed the Severn River again. It was much smaller this far up the country. Along the path was a sign for eighty-five pence coffee and biscuits. I stopped in. It was someone’s yard. I had been waiting for this moment since the house who had ‘Water for Walkers’. I think it’s a brilliant idea if you are a house along the Offa’s Dyke and you are retired. There was a bell in the back yard that you rang and a gentleman popped out and asked you what you were after. He then sat and chatted about the state of things. His chickens pecked around for crumbs and only got a bit of my leg. He was funny. He liked to play with statistics. If twelve percent of all car accidents involve drivers who are sober, then eighty-eight percent are sober people—it would be better, then, if all drivers were drunk. He filled me in on my possible destination for the night, Llanymynech. It is the only place in the UK which has a border run through the middle of it—the English-Welsh border runs right through it. This means that at some times there has been taxes applied to one side and not the other. And the Welsh pub nearly went out of business when the non-smoking laws came in there nine months before they hit England.
Two times I walked along the Montgomery Canal today. It got me thinking. The canals are lovely—house boats, locks, lock houses. Lying on my English side hotel bed—completely luxurious, enormous bathroom; as big as the room—I decided the time had come to leave the Dyke. I was more than likely two days prior to when I would have left anyway. I will miss a large climb and probably get to where I wanted to get either at the same time or earlier (Chester). I miss the climbing but not the downhills; I’ll miss the climb but not the lack of facilities. I will not miss Offa’s megalomaniac tendency to place his dyke on the crest of every possible hill. This is a good decision.
In the meantime I ate dinner. A lady approached me in the restaurant and told me how brave I was to go out for dinner on my own. It’s do it or don’t eat when you are alone, I told her. And even if all these people think I am a fool, they won’t see me again so it doesn’t really matter. I was a little warmed to hear it though. Thanks lady.
Good night to Llanymynech, good night to you.